Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Recent Reading: Alexandria

by Lindsey Davis

I've been picking up Lindsey Davis's Falco novels - when the paperbacks appear - since forever, but really just as light reading. Even by those standards, though, this one is a lightweight. Falco and immediate family make their way to Alexandria-in-Egypt, stay with some more distant family, meet some people from the library, and run into a murder mystery, which eventually gets sorted out in a rather discursive fashion. Then they go home again.

The book seems to exist for two reasons; to let Davis unload some research she's done about Roman Alexandria in a moderately entertaining fashion, and to allow her a small joke about detective story forms. The Falco stories started out as time-displaced hard-boiled noir exercises with a reasonable amount of grit, but as the hero has settled down as a family man, and Davis has come ever more fond of her supporting cast, the requisite darkness has rather faded. Here, in fact, we get (a) a body in a library, and (b) a locked room murder mystery. But Davis can't do Christie-esque cosy puzzles particularly well, I'm afraid. The best scenes are actually a couple of set-pieces involving sudden death and night-time chases through the streets, which may not achieve serious levels of tension, but at least manage to be interesting.

I gather that the next in the series involves a return to Rome - and with any luck, we'll get Falco's honest-cop pal Petro back, and maybe a few brutal gangsters and some cynical court politics on the mean streets around the Aventine. Then, I'll feel less like my time-filler is a time-waster.

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